Republicans Befuddled by 2024 Abortion Politics
Plus: The Tucker Carlson ‘NatCon’ signal boost goes dark.
Good afternoon and welcome to Press Pass, your twice-weekly look into Washington and the 2024 campaign. It’s shaping up to be a busy week in the nation’s capital as the House prepares to vote on a bill that could avert a default on the national debt. Make sure to subscribe to Bulwark+ to not miss the news in Thursday’s edition, which will be exclusively for subscribers.
Today’s newsletter touches on the issue of abortion, which has become a significant electoral problem for Republicans since last year’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade. In other news, President Joe Biden’s announcement of his re-election campaign prompted the RNC to create an AI-generated deepfake, and a lot of far-right Republicans are in limbo following Tucker Carlson’s abrupt firing from Fox on Monday.
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Post Roe, Republicans don’t know what to do with abortion policy
For decades, Republican politicians and operatives joined with the conservative base and the intellectuals to push for overturning Roe v. Wade. But with the accomplishment last year of that long-desired goal, the GOP’s pro-life commitment has become something of a monkey’s paw situation. Thirteen states currently have abortion bans, most of them without exceptions for rape or incest, and these new laws have given rise to politically devastating abortion-themed news cycles that seem to recur on an almost weekly basis. Abortion access was a major factor in the GOP’s poor performance during an otherwise historically favorable election cycle last year, and the party’s electoral challenges on the issue will likely continue into the foreseeable future.
Now Republicans are scrambling to come up with a message to mitigate the impression that their abortion positions put them wildly out of step with most of the country.
Some are holding fast to their convictions. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, for instance, signed into law a six-week abortion ban this month. Meanwhile, during an appearance on a NewsNation show on Monday, former Vice President Mike Pence said:
Well, I think defending the unborn first and foremost is more important than politics. I really believe it’s the calling of our time. . . . As I said in the immediate aftermath of the Dobbs decision, it may take as long to restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law in every state in this country as it took us to overturn Roe v. Wade, but I believe that restoring the inalienable right to life to American law is that important.
Others, like Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, have adopted a more moderate stance on the issue. In a speech she delivered today at the headquarters of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America in Arlington, Virginia—a location close enough to Washington to guarantee press attention—Haley said, “I do believe there is a federal role on abortion. Whether we can save more lives nationally depends entirely on doing what no one has done to date—finding consensus. That’s what I will strive to do.”
Haley outlined some areas where she is staying firm and others where she is more flexible. The latter include access to contraception:
Surely, we can all agree that abortion up until the time of birth is a bridge too far. Only seven countries on earth allow elective late-term abortions. We’re talking brutal regimes like Communist China and North Korea.
We should be able to agree that contraception should be more available, not less.
And we can all agree that women who get abortions should not be jailed. A few have even called for the death penalty. That’s the least pro-life position I can possibly imagine.
True to form, Donald Trump has avoided principle and pragmatism both by waffling on the issue—despite his having been the president who tipped the scales of the Supreme Court in favor of ultimately overturning Roe.
Trump campaign spokesman Stephen Cheung confirmed the Washington Post’s reporting that the former president believes abortion is now an issue that should be decided by individual states, which prompted a rebuke from the pro-life group Haley spoke to. “Holding to the position that it is exclusively up to the states is an abdication of responsibility by anyone elected to federal office,” Susan B. Anthony Pro Life America’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, wrote in a news release.
The overturning of Roe was a major event that, as much as Republicans desired it, seems to have cost them a more favorable outcome in the 2022 midterms and is shaping up to be a driving issue in the 2024 cycle. And the party is still light years away from finding a consensus or position on the issue that is palatable to the independent voters they will need to court.
The RNC responds to Biden’s re-election announcement with AI-generated doom
President Joe Biden announced his re-election campaign this morning in a video. The Republican National Committee responded by posting an artificial intelligence–generated video that includes disaster scenarios they believe could befall the country if Biden wins another term—things like China invading Taiwan, financial markets going into “freefall,” border agents being “overrun by a surge of 80,000 illegals,” and, bizarrely, San Francisco being “closed” because of drugs and crime. (That last hypothetical includes an image of a cigarette-smoking man with MS-13 tattooed in gothic script across his forehead. Subtle, the ad is not.)
The video is strange not just because of the simultaneously eerie and goofy AI-generated images, but also because of the premise—the idea that another four years of Biden could potentially result in apocalyptic problems. It’s certainly a far cry from a more typical political message challenging an incumbent: Bad stuff has happened because of this administration, but our candidate will put a stop to it.
It sure seems as though the GOP strategists who came up with this idea accept that things are mostly fine today—they’d hit Biden more directly for his record otherwise—so they think their best bet is to convince voters that if Biden is allowed to carry forward his agenda into a second term, unprecedented disasters will befall the country. Essentially: Things are good. Now imagine them getting way, way worse! It could happen! This doesn’t strike me as very well thought out messaging, but I suppose we’ll have to see how it lands with voters.
The Tucker signal boost goes dark for Congress’s NatCons
Tucker Carlson’s abrupt firing from Fox has left some lawmakers on Capitol Hill bereft of access to the biggest megaphone on TV.
Whoever fills the network’s coveted 8 p.m. primetime slot will doubtless continue to be friendly toward Republicans and regularly book them as guests. But Carlson went far beyond this expectation. He provided a channel to boost the celebrity and influence within the GOP of MAGA figures and faux-populist “NatCons” like Josh Hawley, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and J.D. Vance.
Carlson was also far and away the most prominent exponent of conspiracy theories about what happened during the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. If House Speaker Kevin McCarthy still wants someone to put a new spin on the attack using the footage he originally made available exclusively to Carlson’s show, he’ll have to find somebody else to do it for him.
Whether the more extreme populist Republicans that Carlson hosted so frequently will take an actual hit in terms of influence, power, or prominence is unclear. They still hold a lot of sway over the party thanks to the profile they’ve acquired thanks to Fox, other outlets, and the support they’ve received from Trump. But with Carlson’s defenestration, they’ve at least lost some of their ability to reach conservatives beyond the right-wing echo chamber. Fox’s other programs will continue to have them on, but those shows lack the pull Carlson’s had—and they also aren’t as likely to air segments devoted to the MAGA nationalists’ pet issues like January 6th conspiracies. MTG and company might have to take that song and dance to another streetcorner.
I wish that the press conversation about abortion would stop with the idea that there is anything pro-life about the GOP. Loving the unborn is really easy. Loving the born, by making sure they have healthcare, an education and access to food and shelter is WAY HARDER.
Women are dying from GOP policies and that is the point of the policies. They will lose amd lose until they figure out that women understand what they mean when they enact their anti-born people policies.
Whenever Republicans start talking abortion, I hear the faint strains of Horst-Wessel-Lied. These people don't care about life. It's about control and forced birth. They don't even care about children. They do nothing to help with childcare or Healthcare. The idea of free school lunches sends them into hysteria. They cut out health education and now want to ban contraception. And when the kids get mowed down by an AR 15, they defend guns! They weren't happy with over turning Roe vs Wade. Now it's a competition to see who can be more cruel. And yet if one of their mistresses gets pregnant, I promise you they will get an abortion. A pox on all of them.